Friday, September 15, 2017

A Doctor's or Scientist's Life for Me? (650-1)

Austin Parker's blog post Building An Entrepreneurial Perspectve inspired to inspire my readers. His blog is a guide to others who can't or don't see themselves as entrepreneurs. For those of you in the life sciences, this is a call to action. Before you accept a long and complicated path in medicine or health science research, ask yourself "Am I an Entrepreneur?" If so then perhaps at least take a look around and see what your other options are.

"I am going to be a doctor/scientist".

This is what you told yourself, your family and you significant other/spouse as you embarked on advanced training for a PhD or an MD. It's what everyone heard. It's what everyone expects. You are on the journey.

But is the vision still the same. Do you still see the white coat and sitting in the lab or the clinic. Is this still the path for you? For many folks it potentially is not.

For the scientist the choice is not necessarily his or her own. Sure, in 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will invest $33.1 billion (1) in approximately 50,000 competitive grants that directly support 27,500 investigators (2) and 300,000 researchers. And the NIH supports an additional 6,000 scientists in its laboratories (3). In 2015, research investments also included $26.5 billion from other Federal agencies ($6.3 billion), foundations ($4.7 billion), and other non-business organizations ($15.5 billion).

That's a ton of money. But a new-minted life scientist (or a struggling post-doc) there is a lot of competition. In fact, NIH and biomedical funding and total awards show minimal growth (1) yet the number of newly minted (e.g., <35 years old) life science PhDs continues to grow. And the message for women scientists too is concerning since women accounted for much of the 7000 increase in life science PhDs received between 1993 and 2002 (4).

The failure rate of entrepreneurial pursuits is high, but what is the failure rate of an NIH grant application. Failure is part of the process of success. So if entrepreneurship has some appeal then keep reading the next series of blogs as I delve into the field of Entrepreneurial Intent and discuss the process of switching from life scientist to business person including moving the numbers from p values to investor ROI.

References and Credits
  1. Office of Budget (OB) Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR). FY 2017 Budget in Brief - NIH. February 16, 2016.
  2. Lauer Mike. How Many Researchers?. NIH Extramur Nexus. May 31, 2016.
  3. Budget. Natl Inst Health NIH. October 31, 2014.
  4. Sciences National Research Council (US) Committee on Bridges to Independence: Identifying Opportunities for and Challenges to Fostering the Independence of Young Investigators in the Life. Where Are We Now?. National Academies Press (US). 2005.
The image "Path split by the 'Batchelor' seat" (4 July 2009, 640 × 405 [271 KB], jpg) was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Bob Embleton and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.


  1. Hi Brad,
    When one chooses to become a doctor or scientist they have the same choices of an Entrepreneur they can either work for some one else at a hospital or they can open up their own private practice. thank you for sharing the valuable information for people that are either in this field or considering going into the medical field.

    1. Sabrina,

      I guess that is my academic bias. I have no clue why someone would think that they can run a business AND practice medicine. I would argue that in fact they can't given the high burnout rate among doctors and the fact that private practice is slowly disappearing as an option as those practices are bought by large hospital system (e.g., Duke, UNC, WakeMed, Carolinas). For me it is either/or. Business and Medicine are both more than 40 hour/week jobs. And they both require ongoing training and effort to stay current in the field.

      I still think Medicine is great field (and health in general). Mostly I want health oriented folks to realize that they can use their talents in business; they don't have to see patients to utilize their training.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Hi Brad,
    I look forward to this series of writings as you discuss the move from the medical field to the business field and the intersection of the two. It must be very challenging to have chosen the field of medicine, maybe even practiced for a while and find the journey is not going in the direction one imagined and worked towards.

    1. You've inspired my next post. In fact it is liberating. It's truly wonderful to realize that you can take what you have and mold it into an object that you didn't already intend to create. I think physician burnout would be less of a problem if physicians realized that there are many things they can do that will achieve the same vision as long as they are willing to take a different path.